WWDC: Apple's OS X Lion -- it's all about control

By Jonny Evans

Apple [AAPL] delivered one big shock to Mac using system admins this week when it announced that OS X Lion release will only be available via the Mac App Store. That's not all, it also requires you use your Apple ID to download and install the operating system, which sounds trivial, but might not be.

King of the iJungle

In Apple's world, Lion is the "easiest OS X upgrade", with the company arguing that the install is only "the size of an HD movie from the iTunes Store".

Lion will be a 4GB install.

You'll be able to install it to multiple machines, for a fee, so long as you tie these to your Apple ID. It sounds cool and futuristic and gadget-friendly, but -- unless the company has a grand plan to help users dealing with large OS installations -- it will be an utter nightmare for places with many Macs to upgrade -- schools or those recently-won enterprise users, for example.

You see, in Apple's world all Mac users now have access to a fast Internet connection and are lucky enough to have ISPs who won't mind them downloading 4GB of data to each Mac on their network.

That's 8GB of downloads for two Macs, or 200GB for 50 Macs. That's one big bandwidth-buster -- not just a case of popping a DVD into the optical drive and leaving it to install.

Who got the credit?

No one can seriously expect people with many Macs to upgrade to repeatedly download a copy of the OS. Also, consider this, "Employees come and go. No one in their right mind is going to tie company credit cards to personal Apple IDs nor is one individual in a company going to tie his or her Apple ID to multiple company boxes. Having to manage Apple IDs and the credit card accounts associated with them is going to be problematic for sysadmins everywhere."

Not only this, but in the event you have a software problem on your Mac, this lack of physical media will make it really hard to repair -- you'll be unable to start-up from a DVD -- you won't have a DVD. Once again, perhaps Apple has a plan for this, but I don't know what it is.

NOTE: At this point do take a look at the handy 'How to make a bootable Lion installation DVD instructions at the end of this report', thanks to Egg Freckles.(Via: MacGasm) Assuming these instructions will work with the final digitally-shipped version of Lion, of course.)

Then there's the privacy problem. This deep use of Apple IDs to govern the OS on your machine means Apple can enforce OS X licensing (so you'll pay for each installation, and when you sell your Mac what will you do? Erase the drive?) It also means you've lost privacy.

The Leopard trap

Then there's this other big problem. Here's what happened to me. I had a copy of Leopard, another of Tiger, another of Snow Leopard. For personal (and, as you might expect), really rather tedious reasons, these installation disks got damaged.

I now have three Macs, one running each of those OS's.

In order to upgrade my systems to Leopard, I need a functioning installation DVD, and Apple no longer sells these. And I'm unable to by-pass that and install direct to Snow Leopard, as that installation requires Leopard already be installed on a machine. That's why copies of Leopard cost $100 and above. Then I need the Snow Leopard installation, and the Lion download. But Apple no longer sells Leopard, driving users to that eBay price.

Now think about the inherently conservative nature of business users. I know of graphics design shops who still run earlier versions of software and the OS, arguing that as the versions they are running are good enough for their needs, they see no reason to finance Silicon Valley's software developers any more than is necessary.

So now imagine a school or an enterprise shop with many Macs running a per-Leopard OS turning around tomorrow, wanting to use iCloud services, recognizing they need to upgrade to Lion, but facing the Leopard trap...

The subscription-based OS

This is going to get expensive, it is also going to get time-consuming. It marks a moment at which Apple's operating systems have become subscription-based -- it isn't just that you want to upgrade, but also that in order to upgrade you'll need to invest in previous versions.

Look, it's not rocket science. I can already hear the Apple loyalists saying this is Apple's right and Apple is a business and the usual cant, but surely the company could at least enter into the spirit of facilitating this transition by offering users its now discontinued Leopard OS as a free download to help them begin this interminable upgrade cycle. After all, the company will still make $29 twice (Snow Leopard and Lion) for each subsequent install.

All of this is just technical argumentation. There's another fear. Over a year ago I reported that Apple had a long range plan to launch a software download store, with an eventual view to control all the software sold on the platform by controlling what software is sold in the store.

"Developers planning on marketing software for 10.7 will submit their products to the App Store as iPhone and now iPad developers have already done," they said.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs later dismissed these claims. Asked, "There's a rumor saying there will be a Mac App Store and no software without authorization from Apple will run on Mac OS X. Is that true?", the company's CEO wrote, "Nope."

One store to rule them all

Apple so far has stressed that there will be other ways to purchase and install software on your Macs, but continues to preach that the Mac App Store is the number one way consumers are getting hold of their software. By tying the OS itself to the Apple ID, the company is clearly making another step to make its App Store the only place to purchase software.

Think about how Apple stressed the Mac App Store's position as the number one software store in the US during Monday's keynote. There's other effects, too, "With the App Store lock-in, root access will be a thing of the past," thunders Rixstep, who first predicted this whole thing.

In February, we learned that Apple intends ceasing sales of boxed software within its retail stores. "Apple is planning on making the move to all digital sooner than expected at their retail stores. Apple is working towards eliminating boxed software and presumably focusing sales through the Mac App Store," MacRumors reported.

The starship enterprise

This week Apple put its head into the clouds, announcing what will become the future of all its platforms -- as a series of devices connected by the Internet to intelligent servers, where eventually (I believe) much of the OS and many of the applications will be hosted.

This is Chrome's net appliance model, executed far more intelligently with a mind to bandwidth limitations (with the exception of the 4GB Lion download) and a need to educate users into trusting online services for privacy.

Apple also began to reveal the future of its iOS platform, the brainchild of Scott Forstall and his team of ace software engineers.

The new iOS features we learned of this week are merely the tip of the iceberg of a future which ditches the PC. Apple also revealed plans to land a spaceship in Cupertino. And made a move to make the Mac user experience just a little less liberated than it was before.

All your code are belong to us

A January 2010 note from Google developer Mark Pilgrim warns that any move to exercise too much control over software sales will eventually harm developers and consumers.

"Apple has declared war on the tinkerers of the world," he wrote. "With every software update, the previous generation of 'jailbreaks' stop working, and people have to find new ways to break into their own computers. There won't ever be a MacsBug for the iPad. There won't be a ResEdit, or a Copy ][+ sector editor, or an iPad Peeks & Pokes Chart. And that's a real loss. Maybe not to you, but to somebody who doesn't even know it yet."

We've looked at these claims before, many remain sceptical, but Apple's move to make its OS solely available via the App Store once again raises these possibilities.

I'm interested in your thoughts: sure, I can see how this is one great advance for convenience and usability; I can also see how this means in future, Apple can make sure it makes money from almost every OS install, but is there a reason to be worried that the firm is taking too much control? Let me know in comments below. Also, as I always say, I'd be ever so pleased if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I'm able to let you know as new reports get published here first on Computerworld.  

How to make an OS X Lion boot disk. Thanks to Egg Freckles.

  • Use Finder to locate the Lion installer, right-click and select "Show Package Contents."
  • Find the SharedSupport folder and look for a file named "InstallESD.dmg." This is the Lion Boot Disc image.
  • Copy the "InstallESD.dmg" file to another folder.
  • Launch Disk Utility and click the burn button.
  • Select the "InstallESD.dmg" copy as the image to burn, insert a DVD, burn. Hey presto -- you have an install disk.
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"WWDC: Apple's iOS 5 eats RIM, gets 'Post-PC' updated"
"WWDC: Apple's Mac OS Lion will cost $29.99, more"
"WWDC: Industry speaks on Apple's iCloud post-PC attack"
"WWDC: Will Intel chips power future iPhones?"
“WWDC: Apple beats HP for global chip consumption”

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